Talk, Read & Reread

I’ve been using the basic Talk & Read class structure for a while (i.e., a greeting, quick discussion, and/or some activity “by ear” for about 5 to 20 minutes, then reading, reading, reading for the remainder). That was when I had 40 to 60 minute classes for years. However, switching to an 85-minute block schedule last year really fucked things up. Now, classes feel way too long, I’m exhausted, there’s too much time between class days (i.e., 48 hours) so “the din” of Latin in students’ minds grows dim, and absent kids miss out big time (i.e., now 96-120 hours from class to class if absent just one day).

It turns out that I didn’t write much about the block schedule messing with things last year aside from a blog post or two. Granted, 2021-22 was the first year back from remote learning. That came with unique challenges, and the schedule change didn’t help. Btw, this is my 10th year teaching and my 10th schedule. Even when I stayed at the same school for more than a year, the schedule changed each one. I’m now in the 6th year at the same school. 6 schedules. Anyone wanna place a bet as for next year will hold? So, 2021-22 was a big calibration year for all sorts of reasons, and it’s taken me until right now to actually identify how much the schedule has negatively impacted first year language students. But I have a solution…

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Draw & Discuss [Collaborative] Storytelling

Last year, I observed Emma Vanderpool’s class for about 20 minutes of storytelling. What I saw was a combination of storytelling while drawing (e.g., Storylistening), and Write & Discuss/Type ‘n Talk. Emma told the story of Romulus & Remus as students listened as they copied her drawings and any Latin she wrote on the board to accompany the story. She asked questions between all the statements and drawing, and established meaning of new words right on the board. The result was a smash doodle kind of collage. The experience was input-rich and highly comprehensible. Students were actively listening, drawing, responding, and asking for clarification.

Last week, I observed my student teacher run the same activity for Latin 1 students with a version of Berg’s ursa story from this month’s Writing Challenge #2. The experience was a hit, and just as effective. It was almost pacifying, too, like a waaaaaaaaay more interesting dictatio, and I plan to do this a lot more throughout the year. I also got thinking how this could easily be turned into collaborative storytelling, giving each student something to do while the story unfolds: draw! Perhaps part the story is established, and I do Draw & Discuss for half the time, then start storyasking details. I draw, they draw, etc.

Writing Challenge #3: Description

As we’re winding down the month’s writing challenges, let’s recognize that over just a couple weeks, contributors produced nearly 3,000 words of Latin for the beginner. These short stories share some themes and common vocab. Not bad at all! While sheltering vocab is not everything, it’s most things, but let’s add something onto keeping word count low, shall we? Descriptions. Among other uses of description, a character’s quality or how they do some action becomes an instant question for students: “are you also like the character?” or “would you do things the same way?”

So, Challenge #3 is to write a highly descriptive short story using as few of the following core verbs and function words as possible in order to focus on description:

  • esse, habēre, velle, īre, placēre
  • et, quoque, quia, sed
  • ā/ab, ad, cum, ē/ex, in
  • ergō, iam, nōn, subitō, valdē

For Challenge #3, there will be an overall unique word limit (excluding names, and different forms of words). Also, don’t forget about referring to the cognate list for adjectives, and don’t forget to make adverbs from them!

BOSS level sheltering: no more than 15 words
CONFIDENT level sheltering: no more than 25 words
NOOB level sheltering: no more than 35 words

Here’s the link for Challenge #3. And here’s where I’ll put the stories once they start rolling in.

Comprehension Establishers & Question Types/Possibilities

I end up learning at least one thing each year from my student teachers, whether it’s some insight while observing, some reflection when we’re planning, or some new activity or strategy they suggest. Here’s a revelation worth looking into…

When scripting out some questions back in October, one example I gave was asking “class, which word means ‘again?’ Is it aliquid or iterum?” After a few more like this, my student teacher said “oh, it’s kind of like a comprehension check acting as a comprehension…establisher.” I paused for a moment, then realized yes, that’s exactly what that is. She put a name to what I’ve been doing for years, going way back to the 2016 sneaky quizzes when I’d use the T/F statements to establish meaning of words.

Comprehension Establishers establish meaning in the form of a question.

The difference in purpose between comprehension checks and establishers is subtle. Establishers aren’t intended to evaluate student understanding. They’re asked in a way that all but guarantees students make a form-meaning connection (e.g., “What word means ‘obscure,’ nocte or obscūra?”). A comprehension check, however, is often exactly that: to check whether a student understands, and if they don’t, then we establish meaning right away. In that sense, can an establisher bypass the check and then establishing meaning? Absolutely, but then there’s variety to consider. Might as well get some experience with both.

Question Types/Possibilities
Also discovered when scripting out some questions, it became clear to me that there are often too many possibilities. Instead of brainstorming every possible one, it’s probably more beneficial to settle on a couple question types and cycle through them while reading. For example, using one sentence, Mārcus ōrdinārius esse nōn vult, we could ask each of the following:

Contrary-To-Fact Personalized Q: vellēsne esse ōrdinārius?
Comprehension Establisher Q: Which word means “to be,” esse or vult?
Comprehension Checks: What does esse mean?
Content Q: What does Marcus not want?

But should we ask that many questions for one sentence? If so, should we ask all four questions for EVERY sentence in the chapter? I’m thinking “no,” and “no.” While on the one hand it would appear to provide the student with a great deal of support, on the other hand this process would drag out quite a bit. My recommendation would be to ask just ONE of those question types PER sentence and see how it feels. You might find that even one of those questions per sentence ends up being too many while reading. If so, scale it back to a question per section of two-three sentences, and then just cycle through the four question types. For example, if a short chapter has eight sections of sentences, you’ll ask a comprehension establisher q, a comprehension check, a contrary-to-fact personalized q, a content q, and then repeat. My advice is to identify the contrary-to-fact personalized q’s first, since it doesn’t always make sense to ask those. Then, fill in the rest. Print these out, and stick them in the book you’re reading. Remember, unused scripts already served a purpose: to get you thinking of how and what to ask students.

Writing Workshop & Challenge #2

People have all sorts of things to say about the Latin being written these days. Sure enough, the vocabulary decisions I made for writing Challenge #1 were questioned almost immediately. While there’s no need to defend any of those decisions, it’s definitely worth looking at why those “core” 19 words were chosen and how they’re useful for storytelling. So before we get to Challenge #2, consider this a mini little writing workshop. Cui dono…? No one in particular. Let’s take a look at those words…

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0 To 130: Seven Years Of Latin Novellas

In August of 2020, I wrote 0 To 70: Five Years Of Latin Novellas. Well, here we are just two years later having nearly doubled that number!!!! I’ve got two more coming out this year as well, so I’m betting it won’t be long until we hit that 140 mark.

Novellas are no joke. While the majority of teachers who discuss them are K-12, I know of at least one teacher prep program that’s been giving attention to these “new” resources in methods (etc.) courses, as well as various college professors listing them as required texts for their own students to read. This summer, I even learned that my cousin’s wife read an Olimpi book as part of a Midwest Philosophy grad program. And as more novellas make their way into classrooms, teachers and professors are tweaking how they use them. Here are my own findings…

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The Problem With Circling & Solutions For Questioning

Circling isn’t an activity (e.g., “OK class, let’s answer some circling questions”) or something you plan to last 20 minutes during the next class. It’s a strategy, and Von Ray was right. In 2017, he told a small room of TPRS workshop participants if there’s no breakdown [in processing the language], we don’t circle. The strategy was developed as part of collaborative storytelling. No wonder that’s the context in which it works best! Sure, any language learner will benefit from getting micro-exposure to a small set of words, which is what takes place during circling and during the TPRS 2.0 update of triangling (i.e., circling with 3rd, 1st, and 2nd verb persons). Yet, there are times when circling falls flat…

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“P1 Pausa”/Sub Plans/COVID Plans/General Good Idea

With COVID once again making its rounds. If I were out this time of year, I’d have almost NOTHING productive for first year Latin students to do on their own for a whole week. Last January during the Omicron madness it was a completely different story. Students could read on their own and in small groups with minimal supervision by that time. A sub could have run those classes if I had been out.

But now? No way. Unless…

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“What Novellas Do You Buy, Magister P?”

All of them.

When someone shares the latest novella to the Latin Best Practices Facebook group, I add it to my list, then drop the link into my budget/item request form at school so I can get a copy. I order one, read it, then order more if it’s gonna work well for first year Latin students. I’ll order a lot more if it’s a hit, or maybe 1-2 if it seems good but a little above reading level. Once I notice students always going for a particular title during independent reading time, I might even order enough so we can read some of the book as a whole class. N.B. no, I don’t always finish books as a whole class, especially if it’s been more than 3 weeks of reading.

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Do Now/Activator/hodiē

For a few years now, I’ve been starting class with a calm, focused, 5 minute task for students to do while I take attendance and recover from our not-much-transition-time between classes. This is crucial. I greet students at the door—itself a high leverage practice that tells us so much about how a student might be doing that day and what their needs are—then, when official class time begins, I walk in, and project the task. I say nothing to begin. There’s no corralling, no raising my voice, no vying for attention. Students know that once the greeting is projected, it’s time for Latin. If anyone’s still in that “class transition” mindset instead of a Latin class one, I casually walk around, perhaps supplying them a pencil, pointing to our scrap paper area, or motioning towards the task, and we’re off and running with the start of class. This is part organization, part content, and part classroom management. N.B. this opening all takes place on my projected ONE doc. See this video from 2020 for more details. It’s basically stayed the same, even with in-person teaching.

What’s the task?
Nine out of ten times it’s to copy the date, weather, and a short greeting into notebooks added to throughout class, which serves as some optional portfolio learning evidence. This is the start of the weekly sheet/packet routine. While I no longer use weekly sheets, many things that used to be on them still end up in a student’s notebook, just with less structure and repetition. I like the flexibility now to include all of the weekly sheet content during a given class, or none of it besides the date. Last year, I added a note or two below the date, or some commentary about the school week’s or day’s agenda. This whole idea is really an indispensable way to firmly anchor the start of class, especially when there’s some kind of short task to get things going. Recently, though, I was thinking how to use this class opener for a more robust text. Nothing fancy, but there’s opportunity there. Here are my ideas for this year:

  • Magister P [discipulīs/classī Venetae/omnibus, etc.] salūtem dīcit
    Yeah, why not? If students have been copying “salvēte omnēs” all these years, might as well infuse some conventional Roman stuff each class. We rarely have characters writing letters to each other in class stories, but maybe we could start!
  • More weather descriptions & Q/A adverbs
    Instead of “pluit” or whatever, some commentary/question about rain would be a nice springboard for a quick discussion. In terms of adverbs, I’m thinking of drawing more attention to the Q/A posters by using phrases such as “mihi haud placet.”
  • Center piece: “describe the object, in Latin”
    Several years ago, I started Friday classes with a “guess what it is” or “what’s in the box?” kind of prompt. Drawing from that idea, I’ll either place an object on display, or put an image of something below the day’s greeting, having students describe what they see. This is a different kind of writing we don’t do much of, and I’m hoping that doing more of it will produce rich descriptions of items and characters in our stories.